Turn Your Home into Your Gym

I wanted to write about what has worked best for me when it comes to working out at home. I still love going to the gym, but sometimes it is simply more practical to exercise at home – for example, when the weather is very bad, it is too late to go out, when the gym is closed or whilst I am trying to multi-task (e.g. I can do a workout whilst still keeping an eye on a slow cooking dish). Or you may be a busy Mum and your only chance to get some exercise is during your kid’s nap time.

In a previous entry, I wrote about the equipment that everybody should in my opinion avoid as they are in my opinion a waste of money. I have recently enhanced my home gym (aka master bedroom) with a few more gadgets and gizmos. This is a summary of what I think a great home gym should include, if you are on an everyday budget like myself. (Sadly, I do not own all the below listed kit but definitely aspire to…)

So here is my vote on the top 12 training equipment to get you the best results without breaking the bank (too much):

(1) Kettlebells

You can use kettlebells and dumbbells/barbells interchangeably for some exercises. While traditional weights are all about low reps and more weight, kettlebell-specific exercises are designed for higher, faster repetitions performed for a minute or more. You’ll activate dozens of muscles instead of just a few, which increases your body’s fat-burning metabolism, and you’ll also improve your power endurance, or your muscles’ ability to repeatedly perform fast, powerful movements during an extended period.

There are lots of different kettlebells you can get, however not all of them are up for the job. I am all for cast iron bells with a protective coating (vinyl or neoprene) and a handle that you has a nice round (rather than rectangular) shape and which you can hold with two hands for comfort. Even better from a storage perspective if there is not much size difference between different weights.

The worst ones I have seen are the ones you can get through Body Sculpture, Asda, York and Reebok – I would avoid these as they have funny shaped handles and are made of very dodgy materials such as plastic.

My favourite brand is Fitness Mad. When it comes to kettlebells, you truly get what you pay for. A good set consisting of 3-4 different weights (with single rather than double weights) should be available for under £100, especially if you buy them together as a complete set rather than individually.

(2) Gymboss interval timer

The GYMBOSS is a small, easy to use, repeating interval timer/stopwatch which becomes your very own drill sargeant during your workouts to keep you on your toes!  This multi-use timer costs around £15 and has many versatile functions that make it beneficial to virtually any type of exercise program!

(3) Reebok deck

Since the birth of Jane Fonda’s step aerobics DVD’s, the step deck has evolved into a multifunctional, elevated platform for a huge variety of endurance, plyometric and strength exercises.

I can personally recommend Reebok as these decks are quite sturdy and the height can be easily changed. The latest version even transforms itself into an incline/decline bench as well as a seat, and you can even attach resistance tubes to it. This is quite pricey, however I find that the older version without the resistance tube attachments is a lot cheaper (e.g. about £50 on Amazon when on sale) and does just as good a job!

(4) Speed jump rope

There are hunderds of different types of jump ropes out there, from the playground version to the plasticky Adidas/Nike ones to the more high end leather ones used for boxing training sessions. The key is to buy one where you can adjust the length of the rope to fit your height.

There is even a tutorial on Youtube about the correct set up. And of course if you are planning to use it frequently, you might want to go for a better quality one – for about £15 you will get a really great quality leather jump rope, such as RDX. I just love the way this simple item can send your heart racing in no time at all if you want to add some cardio boost to your training!

(5) Dumbbells

These old school, no-nonsense hand weights never disappoint and can become your best friend. Make sure though that you get the right weight, if you get too comfortable during your workout, you can’t really activate your muscles and get the results you want to see. So I would say your starting weight should be 3kg, which I for example tend to use for high rep shoulder flies.

Like kettlebells, these come in all shapes and sizes, my favourite ones are those that have a vinyl protective cover to avoid bruising and damaging the carpet. Prices vary depending on weight, I would say a decent set consisting of weights between 2kg – 10kg should be available under £100.

(6) Yoga Mat

It goes without saying that a good mat is a real must especially if you have slippery or uncomfortable surfaces to exercise on. This is probably the cheapest thing to buy for your home gym, however if you want a really posh one, nothing beats a Sweaty Betty yoga mat, provided of course that you are not concerned about digging deep into your pocket for a piece of foam with a fancy logo on it!

(7) UGI ball 

I have already sung its praises in a previous blog entry and all I can say is you have to try it to believe it!!! Of course, if you are looking for a cheaper, less chick version, get a sturdy and big medicine ball instead.

(8) Massage foam roller

I think this is a must have tool at home if you are a serious minded runner, or if weight training is a staple in your training routine, like mine. Foam rolling smooths and lengthens muscles, and breaks up adhesions and scar tissue. Another benefit is that it helps your muscles relax by activating the sensory receptors connecting your muscle fibers to your tendons. The net effect is better blood circulation, which in turn speeds workout recovery and boosts performance.

In the past such good quality massage was only available through massage therapists and physios for humungous amounts of money but now this wonderful tool is very easy to find. My personal recommendation is the The Grid by Trigger Point Performance. Just a note to the girly ladies out there- Amazon is now selling this in P-I-N-K colour! Pity I have already bought one in black when the only other colour option was retro orange 🙂

(9) TRX

I love how versatile and easily portable this equipment is. Suspension training has really taken  exercising to a whole new level as it leverages gravity and the user’s body weight to complete 100s of different exercises. The only trouble is that you need to dig really deep into your pockets for decent quality kit  (around £200) and all discounts through the TRX website are only valid outside the UK. Needless to say, this piece of kit for the time being remains on my wish list. 🙁

(10) Vew Do balance board (Zone)

I was hooked on the idea of using a balance board to add an extra challenge to traditional exercises from the first time I visited a Vew Do class in Fitness First a few years ago. Unfortunately, I have found that there is absolutely no way to get this board in the UK (and the class instructor seems to have mysteriously disappeared, before I could ask him). Last time I checked it was selling at a whopping $149 on the vew do website plus international postage. There are of course cheaper imitations/alternatives but all look really substandard in comparison to this one. It is really a huge shame because I think this is one of the most genius equipment I have ever tried during my workouts and this is an item I would not hesitate to spend my money on.

(11) Sandbags

Since a sandbag doesn’t have a fixed, rigid shape like a kettlebell or dumbbell does, the activation and recruitment of muscle with sandbag exercises are superior for building athleticism and motor control. Again, sandbags come in all shapes and sizes and with different handles. Some people even make these at home by stuffing a hiking bag with some rags or dumbbells (and whether they do the job properly, is another question..). My favourite one is the Escape Fitness brand that make compact, dense and good sized sandbags (aka ‘Core Bags’) that also look great. Prices vary between £55-£72. Typically, the heavier sandbag you want, the more expensive it is going to be, however I don’t think one needs more than 2 sandbags and I would opt to get a heavier and a medium weight one.

(12) A great sound system

I find that nothing helps me push through a challenging workout more than some good beats. A proper sound system can really work magic blasting out your favourite tunes – when the going gets tough, all you need is more volume and bass! Good sound systems like Bose can be quite expensive, but worth every penny in the long term. Hopefully the neighbours will approve, too!

Is there any other equipment you would add to a home gym? What is your favourite home gym equipment?

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